June 15, 2024

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. Life expectancy depends on different factors, such as the severity of the disease and response to treatment. Most people with lupus can expect to live a typical life span.

While lupus can be an ongoing source of discomfort, its outlook is generally positive. With appropriate treatment, lupus organizations estimate that many people with lupus will have a typical life expectancy.

The effects of lupus depend on the severity of the disease. Some people who have severe flare-ups could be at greater risk of their lupus being life threatening.

This article explains whether lupus can cause death, how it affects different areas of the body, and how to manage lupus and ensure a longer life expectancy.

The life expectancy of lupus is hard to calculate as people experience different symptoms, effects, and complications. However, early diagnosis and treatment can improve a person’s outcomes.

People with extreme flare-ups are more likely to have other life threatening difficulties, such as internal organ and tissue damage. Lupus outlook depends on factors such as the severity of the disease and the immune response to treatment.

Some treatments may make it harder for the body to fight severe infections or increase the risk of other health conditions, such as cancer.

A 2021 review highlights that cancer, end-stage kidney disease, and infection can cause death as lupus progresses, although factors such as geographical location may affect this rate.

However, treatment progression is significantly improving outcomes for people with lupus.

Lupus is a long-term autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells, tissue, and organs, causing inflammation.

Experts are unsure what causes lupus but think causes could include genes, environment, and hormones.

Some people may have very mild symptoms. Other times, lupus can flare up and make existing symptoms more severe or cause new symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

Lupus can affect almost every part of the body. Complications can affect a person’s life expectancy and their quality of life. Learn how lupus may affect certain body parts below.

Brain

According to a 2023 study, cognitive difficulties are common among people with lupus. The authors highlight a significant association between cognitive difficulties and organ damage.

However, they claim that cognitive dysfunction many healthcare professionals do not detect cognitive dysfunction when analyzing people with lupus.

Cognitive symptoms include forgetfulness and lack of concentration, which some people may call brain fog.

Eyes

Eye problems affect up to 1 in 3 people with lupus. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, this may include the following:

  • changes in the skin surrounding the eyes
  • dry, “gritty” eyes, affecting 1 in 5 people with lupus
  • inflammation of the white protective layer of the eye
  • changes to blood vessels in the retina
  • damage to nerves that control eye movement and vision
  • Sjögren’s syndrome, a condition in which a person cannot produce enough tears
  • cataracts
  • impaired vision
  • vision loss

Eye problems may occur as a side effect of lupus medications in some cases.

Mouth

Mouth sores, also known as oral lesions or ulcers, are among the most common oral symptoms.

Certain lupus medications, such as corticosteroids, can cause oral side effects, including oral thrush and a decrease in bone density of the jaw bone.

Skin

Many people with lupus develop skin problems, including rashes. Different types of lupus can cause different skin manifestations. Some possible skin symptoms include:

  • a butterfly-shaped rash appears across the cheeks and nose
  • round sores on the scalp and face
  • ring-shaped lesions in areas that the sun touches
  • hard lumps under the skin due to calcium buildups

Blood

People with lupus may experience the following:

Heart

Heart disease is a potential complication of lupus and a leading cause of death among people with the condition.

According to a 2022 review, people with lupus may experience the following heart conditions:

Lungs

People with lupus may experience the following lung problems:

  • pleuritis, or swelling of the membrane surrounding the lungs
  • pneumonitis, an inflammation of lung tissue
  • chronic diffuse interstitial lung disease, in which scar tissue prevents oxygen from traveling to the blood from the lungs
  • pulmonary embolism, where a blood clot blocks the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs.

Kidneys

Lupus that affects the kidneys is called lupus nephritis. People with lupus nephritis might experience the following:

The survival rates of people with lupus nephritis are improving.

Gastrointestinal system

The gastrointestinal system stretches from the mouth to the anus. It includes the organs that digest food and drink and dispose of waste.

According to a 2022 article, over 50% of people with lupus experience gastrointestinal problems, which may include:

Bones and muscles

Most people with lupus experience joint and muscle pain at some stage of the condition.

Other muscles and bone issues arise from lupus, including:

Pregnancy

People with lupus have a higher risk of pregnancy complications, such as:

Many pregnant people with lupus give birth to full-term babies without any difficulties. People with lupus should speak with their doctor before becoming pregnant to ensure the best possible outcome for them and their child.

Living with lupus can be challenging. Some medications that treat the condition can cause other problems. To enjoy a good quality of life with lupus, people should work with a doctor.

While medication is an important part of managing lupus, people with lupus can take other steps to improve their quality of life and life expectancy, including:

  • Regular exercise: This may help to reduce muscular stiffness, prevent osteoporosis, relieve stress, and protect the heart.
  • Quit smoking: This can help prevent infections and heart attacks and decreases the risk of pneumonia, bronchitis, and coronary artery disease
  • Resting: Regular rest can improve fatigue. People should aim to get enough good quality sleep each night.
  • Avoid direct sun and fluorescent light exposure: This helps protect against UV light sensitivity. People should also use a high-quality sun cream.
  • Wash the hands regularly: This can help prevent infection in people who are at risk due to certain medications.
  • Manage pain: Managing pain may improve quality of life. This may involve prescribed pain relief or over-the-counter products.
  • Manage mental health: Seeking advice from a mental health expert can help with the mental toll of their condition.

Here are some frequently asked questions about lupus.

How long does a person with lupus live?

According to Lupus UK, most people with lupus can expect to live a normal lifespan. Early diagnosis and steps such as screening for heart disease may improve outcomes.

Does lupus get worse over time?

Lupus is a lifelong condition that can flare up unpredictably. Treatment can help a person manage their symptoms, but flare-ups may occur even while a person receives treatment.

Lupus can be challenging to live with. Symptoms and symptom severity can differ from person to person, but many people can successfully manage the condition and its symptoms.

Most people with lupus can expect to live a long and full life. Factors such as an early diagnosis, following a treatment plan, and attending screenings for health complications may improve prognosis for people with lupus.

If a person has symptoms of lupus, they should speak with a doctor for a prompt diagnosis. Similarly, people experiencing a lupus flare-up should contact a doctor to see if their treatment plan needs adjusting.

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